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This article was published 28/11/2018 (418 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It might be too early to call it a crisis of confidence, but the Winnipeg Jets seem to have lost some of their third-period swagger.
A team that went 42-1-1 when leading after 40 minutes last season is now 7-3-2 after two periods in 2018-19 (with only minor roster tinkering in the off-season), having blown two third-period leads in its last three games.
On Tuesday, the Jets were nursing a 3-2 lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins before allowing goals by Derek Grant and Zach Aston-Reese, a pair of bottom-six forwards, en route to a 4-3 defeat.
"We’ve just got to protect leads — we haven’t done it," veteran left-winger Mathieu Perreault said following practice at Bell MTS Place Wednesday.
"We talked about how good we were at it last year and this year we haven’t done it, so I don’t really know what to say. We’ve just got to bear down a little more."
The Jets, currently 13-8-2 and fourth in the Central Division, host the sixth-place Chicago Blackhawks Thursday night.
Centre Bryan Little suggested his team needed to display more urgency to be able to nail down victories after building early leads.
"Right now I think we're maybe a bit too relaxed, maybe coming off a bit," said Little. "We kind of forgot how hard we had to work to protect a lead and to play our game in those third periods last year, and to really go into the third period excited for it. That's something we're trying to get back to right now."
Not surprisingly, the Jets have been generally outplayed in the third period of lost games. In the club's 10 defeats, including one in overtime and another in a shootout, Winnipeg has been outscored a combined 20-3 in the final frame.
"It's starting to get to you a little bit," said Perreault. "We’ve done it twice in the last three games — we had that talk in the room — but it’s on us to do it, to get out there and get it done. It’s blocking shots, doing whatever it takes to help the team win a game in the third period. We better start doing it."
Jets head coach Paul Maurice was asked if more playing time for his fourth line could be part of a solution, perhaps resulting in a fresher top six for any third-period push.
On Tuesday, fourth-liners Jack Roslovic (4:51), Brendan Lemieux (4:32) and Nic Petan (5:09) played sparingly, which is pretty standard for the trio.
"Would we still have the lead? That's the first qualifier," said Maurice. "Special teams has a function to it. If you're on the power play or the penalty kill, some of those guys' numbers go up. I eventually will expect that the fourth line will play more, as they develop and get stronger. That's where I am on that."
Perreault insisted he wasn't feeling tired late in the game against the Penguins but admitted more ice time for the fourth line might help.
"Potentially, yeah," said Perreault. "I’m not sure what their fourth line played but obviously more than ours… obviously when you get down in games, you know, we run three lines sometimes. When you need that push late in games to get a goal you maybe don’t have that gas in the tank to do it. So maybe it’s something we should address."
Roslovic discounted the fatigue theory.
"We’re a very fit team," he said. "We get put through the ringer during training camp and we make sure that everyone can hang and everyone on this team can. So I was playing 20 minutes in the American League (last season) and I felt fine right at the beginning but right at Christmas break-ish, I got a little bit worn down. But that wear and tear obviously comes no matter how many minutes you play."
Still, the 21-year-old is eager to do his part, whatever that might entail.
"(Our top six) play their minutes and (when) we need goals, and you look statistically, they’re the guys that can score and to get them out there is important," said Roslovic. "But (ice-time) distribution is way above my pay grade... Would we like more? Yes. Would we think we could help with more? Yes, but we’re just there to work."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.